Arabic Language & Diaspora:The land, the Sea, and the People of Palestine!

Posted on: October 2nd, 2023 by Sawsan Abbadi


marHaba! My name is Jannah Abu-Khalil, and I am Senior double majoring in Political Science as well as Criminology and Criminal Justice. In an effort to re-learn my native tongue, I have immersed myself in ‘ustaadha Sawsan’s Arabic courses. My inability to fluently speak the language of my elders is not a personal choice; instead, it comes as a result of my circumstances as a child of the diaspora. However, the seeking of knowledge and حرية , freedom, is my duty. More earnestly, it is the reason I have the luxury in sharing my story.

Flying a kite on Yaffa’s shores

I had the extreme privilege of going home and visiting cities across Palestine, including the West Bank and ‘48 territories such as Yaffa, Jenin, Nablus, etc.! The story of Yaffa is one that will forever remain ingrained in my memories. As children of the diaspora, my Palestinian-American friends and I saw the beauty of the city, smelt the salty Yaffa air as we roamed the beach, and spoke to the locals in what little broken Arabic we could muster to communicate.

I had longed to reconnect with the “Dove” as it stands as a poignant symbol of Palestine’s multifaceted history. Its story is one of dichotomies – pain and hope, colonization and liberation, and a deep-rooted culture intertwined with a contested land. This port city bears the weight of its history. The tender reminder of normalization and colonization is ever-present, with the waves of the Mediterranean Sea washing up stories of displacement and struggle. Yaffa’s sands, like its people, have borne witness to the shifting tides of political and social upheaval. Yet, within this turbulent narrative, Yaffa perseveres as a testament. Its people, vibrant and diverse, are the living embodiment of a culture that has withstood centuries of dispossession. The city’s historic landmarks, such as the ancient port and the bustling marketplaces, echo with the voices of generations who have called this place home.

Although nearly my age, my Palestinian cousins living less than an hour away from Yaffa’s shores are deprived of the beauty of the Dove. Sadly, this realization loomed in the back of my mind as I soaked my feet in the water. As the descendants of a diaspora, returning to Yaffa was an act of reconnection, a reclaiming of identity and heritage. My journey is not merely about physical return but a commitment to keeping the spirit of the city alive. To me, Yaffa is more than just a geographical location; it is a symbol of the enduring Palestinian culture and the unbreakable bond between its people and their land.

In similar vain, when visiting the town and refugee camp in Jenin, I was plagued with guilt, despair, and frustration. Jenin, a city in the heart of the West Bank, unfolds a tale of remarkable resilience and unyielding determination. Where gardens and streets are demolished, a vibrant culture and a thriving theater scene flourish, embodying the indomitable spirit of its people. Mentally and physically suffocated, I inhaled the dust from those ruins.

The Freedom Theater

Yet, the Freedom Theater – the hub for culture and community – provided a source of hope! Through witty plays and original masterpieces, the institution emerges as a beacon for community discourse, therapy, and joy. Despite the challenges and the scars, they have found a way to nurture a life filled with creativity and hope. The theater that graces its streets becomes a stage for the stories of struggle, resistance, and survival. However, even amid this steadfastness, there is a haunting question that hangs in the air: how does the world reconcile the reality that for some children in Jenin, solace is found in death more than life itself?

As I explored the intricate narratives of these cities, I discovered that the people of Jenin – like Yaffa – are resilient and enduring, shaped by decades of struggle and hardship. They have faced numerous challenges, but, they have demonstrated remarkable strength and determination in their quest for a better life. Learning the language of the people is unquestionably a key in any attempt to authentically connect with communities, archive narratives and especially oral stories that tend to be lost across generations, and foster a sense of belonging- a feeling of “Home”!

Abouelafia’s Shop

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